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Tom Jansen
National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (NL)
Misperception and
miscommunication
Barriers and opportunities for
effective communication about risks
from chemical substances
Contents
Disclaimer
Misperception and
miscommunication
Barriers for effective
communication
Oppertunities for
effective
communication
2
1
2
3
4
What could OECD
do?
5
› Expressed (scientific) views in this presentation are my own
› This presentation is not about the justness of policy choices under
epistemic uncertainty.
Disclaimer
3
Misperception
› Misperception, as
approached in this
presentation, is not about
one societal group
perceiving risks wrongly, it
is about different societal
groups having different
evaluations of the same
societal issue.
Miscommunication
› Communication, as
approached in this
presentation, is considered
multidirectional (i.e
dialogue) and aimed at
empowering target
groups to make
informed judgments and
decisions.
Misperception and miscommunication
4
Three barriers to effective communication
1. Scientific information often does not align with public
perspectives on hazards, risks, and uncertainty
2. A mismatch between the use and understanding of
risk terminology
3. Current practices in uncertainty communication leave
much room for misinterpretation of the evidence base
for risk
Scientific information
often does not align
with public
perspectives on
hazards, risks, and
uncertainty
1
Scientific information often does not align with public
perspectives on hazards, risks, and uncertainty
• Perspectives on hazards and risks
• Perspectives on uncertainty
The public, policy makers and
schientists have different
perspectives, criteria and
frameworks with which the
assess risks
8
Severity Hazard = The less
exposure needed to cause
adverse effects, the more
hazardous the agent (e.g.)
Severity Risk = “The higher
the probability of adverse
effects, the higher the risk.”
Perspectives on hazard
and risk
The public, policy makers and
schientists have different
perspectives, criteria and
frameworks with which the
assess risks
9
Severity Hazard = The less
exposure needed to cause
adverse effects, the more
hazardous the agent (e.g.)
Severity Risk = “The higher
the probability of adverse
effects, the higher the risk.”
Perspectives on hazard
and risk
Perspectives on uncertainty
“Knowledge is as an island,
surrounded by a sea of
ignorance.
As our island of knowledge
grows, so does the shore with
our ignorance”
John Archibald Wheeler, 1992
“When it is an E-number, it has
been approved, in a sense that
is has no adverse effects on
health. So, it surprises me that it is
still being researched.”
Peter (age 49, high
education level, Dutch), 2019
A mismatch between
the use and
understanding of
risk terminology
2
A mismatch between the use and understanding of
risk terminology
› Role of semantics is often trivialized, but
› “Risk”
› “Safe”
› “Harmful(ness)”
• Absence of a hazard?
• Absence of risk?
• Toxicity of a chemical substance?
• Numbers of people getting complaints or ill?
• Severity of complaits or illness?
• Synecdoche (figure of speech) – hazard,
probability, effects
• B1 classification
• Technological and social construct
• Pejorative
› What is an ‘uncertain risk’?
Uncertainty
14
Current practices in
uncertainty
communication
leave much room for
misinterpretation of
the evidence base for risk
3
Current practices in uncertainty communication leave much
room for misinterpretation of the evidence base for risk
• Misinterpretation due to
“the risk is uncertain”
• Misinterpretation due to
“possibly carcinogenic”
• Misinterpretation due to
“substance is non-degradable”
scientific jargon
contextual information
vague and ambiguous language
Misinterpretation due to vague and ambiguous language
Misinterpretation due to vague and ambiguous language
“I don’t think they
know what damage it
can cause”
“So: the first uncertainty
is: who gets it? The
second uncertainty is: if
you get it, how serious
is it?”
“The RIVM investigates
the health risks of SAS
in food. At this point,
these are uncertain”
Current practices in uncertainty communication leave much
room for misinterpretation of the evidence base for risk
• Misinterpretation due to
“the risk is uncertain”
• Misinterpretation due to
“possibly carcinogenic”
• Misinterpretation due to
“substance is non-degradable”
scientific jargon
contextual information
vague and ambiguous language
Misinterpretation due to scientific jargon
• According to IARC:
• According to ‘Tom’ (37, intermediate education, Antillean-Dutch):
“That there are people who got cancer […]
But, we do not exactly know how many. So, it
is possible”
“The substance is possibly carcinogenic”
“This category is used for agents […] for which
there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in
humans […].”
Current practices in uncertainty communication leave much
room for misinterpretation of the evidence base for risk
• Misinterpretation due to
“the risk is uncertain”
• Misinterpretation due to
“possibly carcinogenic”
• Misinterpretation due to
“substance is non-degradable”
scientific jargon
contextual information
vague and ambiguous language
Misinterpretation due to contextual information
“Bisphenol A possibly has effects on, for
example, reproduction and
development, metabolism and immune
system.”
(RIVM website)
“Well, I think, that they know it is not
entirely healthy, otherwise they would
not be able to list them [adverse
effects].”
‘Catherine’ (age 51, intermediate
education level, Dutch)
“If it is non-degradable, I think “What is
your risk if you excrete it?” But apparently
you don’t excrete it, and then perhaps it
accumulates […] Well, […] I can imagine
that’s no good.”
‘Astrid’ (43, intermediate education level,
Dutch)
“Possible health risks of nanomaterials in
food can primarily be expected from
exposure to nanomaterials that cannot
be digested in the gastrointestinal
tract.”
(RIVM website)
What are the opportunities for
effective communication about risks
from chemical substances?
Recommendation 1: Facilitate understanding of risk
terminology used in communication
1. Develop information deliberatively, by involving representatives of
target audiences. A case specific approach is recommended.
2. Explicitly reflect on whether terms used in communication have
the same meaning for the target audience as for the
communicator.
3. Communicate epistemic uncertainties as clear and exact as
possible to all audiences, including the general public.
Recommendation 2: Align with public perspectives on hazards,
risks, and uncertainty
4. Distinguish between communicating information that supports
appraisal of the hazard and communication that supports
appraisal of the risk.
5. Identify the (level of) uncertainty people expect. When there is a
mismatch with the actual (level of) uncertainty, address the
mismatch in the communication
Recommendation 3: Minimize room for (mis)interpretation of
the evidence base for risk
4. Reflect on how audiences evaluate terminology used in
communication in terms of epistemic uncertainty
5. Reflect on whether contextual information can evoke incorrect
conclusions about the evidence base for risk.
What could OECD do to help support development
of risk communication activities for PFAS?
› Apply opportunities for effective communication about risks from
chemical substances to practice
› Support social scientific research on risk perception of, and risk
communication about the hazards, risks and uncertainty on PFAS
› Collect, synthesize and include scientific evidence and best
practices in risk communication for informed judgment and
decision making on PFAS, on the OECD web portal
27
Referencing
› Jansen, T., Claassen, L., van Poll, R., van Kamp, I., & Timmermans, D. R. M. (2018). Breaking Down Uncertain Risks for Risk
Communication: A Conceptual Review of the Environmental Health Literature. Risk, Hazards & Crisis in Public Policy, 9(1), 4–38.
› Jansen, T., Claassen, L., van Kamp, I., & Timmermans, D. R. M. (2019). Understanding of the concept of “uncertain risk”. A qualitative
study among different societal groups. Journal of Risk Research, 22(5), 658–672.
› Jansen, T., Claassen, L., van Kamp, I., & Timmermans, D. R. (2020a). “It is not entirely healthy.” A qualitative study into public
appraisals of uncertain risks of chemical substances in food. Public Understanding of Science , 29(2), 139–156.
› Jansen, T., Claassen, L., van Kamp, I., & Timmermans, D. R. M. (2020b). “All chemical substances are harmful.” public appraisal of
uncertain risks of food additives and contaminants. Food and Chemical Toxicology: An International Journal Published for the British
Industrial Biological Research Association, 136(110959), 110959.
› Siegrist, M., & Árvai, J. (2020). Risk Perception: Reflections on 40 Years of Research. Risk Analysis: An Official Publication of the
Society for Risk Analysis, 40(S1), 2191–2206.
› Slovic, P., & Peters, E. (2006). Risk perception and affect. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(6), 322–325.
› Slovic, P. (1992). Perception of risk: Reflections on the psychometric paradigm. In S. Krimsky & D. Golding (Eds.), Social theories of
risk (pp. 117–152). Preager.
› Willems, S., Albers, C., & Smeets, I. (2020). Variability in the interpretation of probability phrases used in Dutch news articles — a risk
for miscommunication. Journal of Science Communication, 19(02), A03.
02/14/2024
28
Tom Jansen
National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (NL)
Misperception and
miscommunication
Barriers and opportunities for
effective communication about risks
from chemical substances

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OECD Global Forum on the Environment dedicated to Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances: Misperception and miscommunication | Tom Jansen

  • 1. Tom Jansen National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (NL) Misperception and miscommunication Barriers and opportunities for effective communication about risks from chemical substances
  • 2. Contents Disclaimer Misperception and miscommunication Barriers for effective communication Oppertunities for effective communication 2 1 2 3 4 What could OECD do? 5
  • 3. › Expressed (scientific) views in this presentation are my own › This presentation is not about the justness of policy choices under epistemic uncertainty. Disclaimer 3
  • 4. Misperception › Misperception, as approached in this presentation, is not about one societal group perceiving risks wrongly, it is about different societal groups having different evaluations of the same societal issue. Miscommunication › Communication, as approached in this presentation, is considered multidirectional (i.e dialogue) and aimed at empowering target groups to make informed judgments and decisions. Misperception and miscommunication 4
  • 5. Three barriers to effective communication 1. Scientific information often does not align with public perspectives on hazards, risks, and uncertainty 2. A mismatch between the use and understanding of risk terminology 3. Current practices in uncertainty communication leave much room for misinterpretation of the evidence base for risk
  • 6. Scientific information often does not align with public perspectives on hazards, risks, and uncertainty 1
  • 7. Scientific information often does not align with public perspectives on hazards, risks, and uncertainty • Perspectives on hazards and risks • Perspectives on uncertainty
  • 8. The public, policy makers and schientists have different perspectives, criteria and frameworks with which the assess risks 8 Severity Hazard = The less exposure needed to cause adverse effects, the more hazardous the agent (e.g.) Severity Risk = “The higher the probability of adverse effects, the higher the risk.” Perspectives on hazard and risk
  • 9. The public, policy makers and schientists have different perspectives, criteria and frameworks with which the assess risks 9 Severity Hazard = The less exposure needed to cause adverse effects, the more hazardous the agent (e.g.) Severity Risk = “The higher the probability of adverse effects, the higher the risk.” Perspectives on hazard and risk
  • 10. Perspectives on uncertainty “Knowledge is as an island, surrounded by a sea of ignorance. As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore with our ignorance” John Archibald Wheeler, 1992 “When it is an E-number, it has been approved, in a sense that is has no adverse effects on health. So, it surprises me that it is still being researched.” Peter (age 49, high education level, Dutch), 2019
  • 11.
  • 12. A mismatch between the use and understanding of risk terminology 2
  • 13. A mismatch between the use and understanding of risk terminology › Role of semantics is often trivialized, but › “Risk” › “Safe” › “Harmful(ness)” • Absence of a hazard? • Absence of risk? • Toxicity of a chemical substance? • Numbers of people getting complaints or ill? • Severity of complaits or illness? • Synecdoche (figure of speech) – hazard, probability, effects • B1 classification • Technological and social construct • Pejorative
  • 14. › What is an ‘uncertain risk’? Uncertainty 14
  • 15. Current practices in uncertainty communication leave much room for misinterpretation of the evidence base for risk 3
  • 16. Current practices in uncertainty communication leave much room for misinterpretation of the evidence base for risk • Misinterpretation due to “the risk is uncertain” • Misinterpretation due to “possibly carcinogenic” • Misinterpretation due to “substance is non-degradable” scientific jargon contextual information vague and ambiguous language
  • 17. Misinterpretation due to vague and ambiguous language
  • 18. Misinterpretation due to vague and ambiguous language “I don’t think they know what damage it can cause” “So: the first uncertainty is: who gets it? The second uncertainty is: if you get it, how serious is it?” “The RIVM investigates the health risks of SAS in food. At this point, these are uncertain”
  • 19. Current practices in uncertainty communication leave much room for misinterpretation of the evidence base for risk • Misinterpretation due to “the risk is uncertain” • Misinterpretation due to “possibly carcinogenic” • Misinterpretation due to “substance is non-degradable” scientific jargon contextual information vague and ambiguous language
  • 20. Misinterpretation due to scientific jargon • According to IARC: • According to ‘Tom’ (37, intermediate education, Antillean-Dutch): “That there are people who got cancer […] But, we do not exactly know how many. So, it is possible” “The substance is possibly carcinogenic” “This category is used for agents […] for which there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans […].”
  • 21. Current practices in uncertainty communication leave much room for misinterpretation of the evidence base for risk • Misinterpretation due to “the risk is uncertain” • Misinterpretation due to “possibly carcinogenic” • Misinterpretation due to “substance is non-degradable” scientific jargon contextual information vague and ambiguous language
  • 22. Misinterpretation due to contextual information “Bisphenol A possibly has effects on, for example, reproduction and development, metabolism and immune system.” (RIVM website) “Well, I think, that they know it is not entirely healthy, otherwise they would not be able to list them [adverse effects].” ‘Catherine’ (age 51, intermediate education level, Dutch) “If it is non-degradable, I think “What is your risk if you excrete it?” But apparently you don’t excrete it, and then perhaps it accumulates […] Well, […] I can imagine that’s no good.” ‘Astrid’ (43, intermediate education level, Dutch) “Possible health risks of nanomaterials in food can primarily be expected from exposure to nanomaterials that cannot be digested in the gastrointestinal tract.” (RIVM website)
  • 23. What are the opportunities for effective communication about risks from chemical substances?
  • 24. Recommendation 1: Facilitate understanding of risk terminology used in communication 1. Develop information deliberatively, by involving representatives of target audiences. A case specific approach is recommended. 2. Explicitly reflect on whether terms used in communication have the same meaning for the target audience as for the communicator. 3. Communicate epistemic uncertainties as clear and exact as possible to all audiences, including the general public.
  • 25. Recommendation 2: Align with public perspectives on hazards, risks, and uncertainty 4. Distinguish between communicating information that supports appraisal of the hazard and communication that supports appraisal of the risk. 5. Identify the (level of) uncertainty people expect. When there is a mismatch with the actual (level of) uncertainty, address the mismatch in the communication
  • 26. Recommendation 3: Minimize room for (mis)interpretation of the evidence base for risk 4. Reflect on how audiences evaluate terminology used in communication in terms of epistemic uncertainty 5. Reflect on whether contextual information can evoke incorrect conclusions about the evidence base for risk.
  • 27. What could OECD do to help support development of risk communication activities for PFAS? › Apply opportunities for effective communication about risks from chemical substances to practice › Support social scientific research on risk perception of, and risk communication about the hazards, risks and uncertainty on PFAS › Collect, synthesize and include scientific evidence and best practices in risk communication for informed judgment and decision making on PFAS, on the OECD web portal 27
  • 28. Referencing › Jansen, T., Claassen, L., van Poll, R., van Kamp, I., & Timmermans, D. R. M. (2018). Breaking Down Uncertain Risks for Risk Communication: A Conceptual Review of the Environmental Health Literature. Risk, Hazards & Crisis in Public Policy, 9(1), 4–38. › Jansen, T., Claassen, L., van Kamp, I., & Timmermans, D. R. M. (2019). Understanding of the concept of “uncertain risk”. A qualitative study among different societal groups. Journal of Risk Research, 22(5), 658–672. › Jansen, T., Claassen, L., van Kamp, I., & Timmermans, D. R. (2020a). “It is not entirely healthy.” A qualitative study into public appraisals of uncertain risks of chemical substances in food. Public Understanding of Science , 29(2), 139–156. › Jansen, T., Claassen, L., van Kamp, I., & Timmermans, D. R. M. (2020b). “All chemical substances are harmful.” public appraisal of uncertain risks of food additives and contaminants. Food and Chemical Toxicology: An International Journal Published for the British Industrial Biological Research Association, 136(110959), 110959. › Siegrist, M., & Árvai, J. (2020). Risk Perception: Reflections on 40 Years of Research. Risk Analysis: An Official Publication of the Society for Risk Analysis, 40(S1), 2191–2206. › Slovic, P., & Peters, E. (2006). Risk perception and affect. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(6), 322–325. › Slovic, P. (1992). Perception of risk: Reflections on the psychometric paradigm. In S. Krimsky & D. Golding (Eds.), Social theories of risk (pp. 117–152). Preager. › Willems, S., Albers, C., & Smeets, I. (2020). Variability in the interpretation of probability phrases used in Dutch news articles — a risk for miscommunication. Journal of Science Communication, 19(02), A03. 02/14/2024 28
  • 29. Tom Jansen National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (NL) Misperception and miscommunication Barriers and opportunities for effective communication about risks from chemical substances